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Cigars, alcohol will mix again

The after-work regulars at Nickleby's smoke shop soon could be returning to an old tradition.

If all goes as manager Tim Vanderpool hopes, customers will be able to start sipping scotch while smoking their cigars and discussing the world's problems.

The Omaha shop is among a handful of businesses around Nebraska that plan to take advantage of a new state law.

The law, which takes effect Aug. 30, creates an exemption from the statewide public smoking ban for specially licensed cigar bars.

But it might be a couple of months before the first match is lit in any cigar bar.

The Nebraska Liquor Control Commission will hold a hearing Thursday on rules and regulations to implement the new law. Hobert Rupe, the commission's executive director, said he doesn't expect to be ready to take applications before the end of September.

Under the new law, such bars cannot sell food or allow cigarette smoking.

They must have walk-in humidors - special rooms with temperature and humidity controls for storing and displaying cigars.

They also must get at least 10 percent of their gross revenue from selling tobacco products other than cigarettes and cannot boost tobacco revenue by offering drink specials with tobacco purchases.

The law will let Nickleby's, once again, offer alcohol with its cigars.

Vanderpool said the business was a smoking lounge until last year. When the Omaha smoking ban was broadened, the business dropped its liquor license and stuck with tobacco sales.

Other businesses, such as Jake's Cigars and Spirits in Omaha, chose to keep their liquor licenses and move smoking outdoors.

Jake's owner John Larkin pushed hard to get the cigar bar exemption passed. He said his business took a big hit under the smoking ban.

"For us, it's going to be awesome, but it's definitely a niche thing," he said of the new law.

Larkin plans to allow indoor smoking again at his Omaha location, at least for those smoking cigars or pipes. He is expanding his Lincoln smoke shop and opening a cigar bar there for the first time.

Nebraska's smoking ban applies to all public buildings and workplaces. It exempts tobacco shops, some hotel rooms, laboratories used for research on smoking and home-based businesses.

The law faces a pending legal challenge. Big John's Billiards, an Omaha pool hall, argued in Lancaster County District Court that exemptions to the smoking ban are arbitrary and amount to special legislation in violation of the state constitution.